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Player-by-player guide to the England touring party

Scyld Berry

28 December 1997


Only two short of 1,000 runs in his two series as captain against West Indies, so England's 'head' should be sound. Short-of-a-length fast bowling suits him best as he works it square off the back foot. Beware the Franklyn Rose out-swinger: ``He keeps a beautiful seam,'' they said in Sharjah.



The spinner in possession after 11 wickets at the Oval when he bowled his best, not pushing the ball through as a stock bowler. But the reality is that no visiting finger-spinner has taken wickets in quantity in the West Indies, with their short boundaries, since Venkataraghavan in 1970-71.



After Atherton and Stewart, he is the third to have a fine proven record against West Indies. Not bothered how low he bats but England should be. As the best counter-attacker he should come at four, when plenty of wickets in hand would allow him to take risks and seize the advantage back.



The greatest self-damage England could do would be to make Stewart keep wicket, as they have done to ever-decreasing effect. He is the best puller in the party, the best equipped to stop the short stuff. Admirably though he keeps, others can do that, but nobody else can dominate as opener.



His worst tour was his last one to the Caribbean, where uneven bounce made the odd ball keep low and his spirits too, especially when he missed stumping Lara in Georgetown. But poor, 'low' pitches there make every keeper struggle, and England need Russell to stiffen the tail.



In his four Tests on England's last visit in 1993-94 he never got going, when batting at No 3, the same deep end in which he drowned in South Africa. If he gets the chance he deserves a middle-order place, and then he would enhance the fielding as a specialist cover-point.



Two dogged innings of 35 each in the 1990 Antigua Test were his best before his 1996 recall, which is promising. But while French cricket works for him against spinners, he must not use it against chest-on pace bowlers. A more vivacious lead from England's best fielder and vice-captain would be in order.



A shame if his success as one-day captain stops him being tried as the Test all-rounder. He is ambitious to bat at six and be a second Steve Waugh organising the tail, and his bowling could be significant here as he chunters strokeplayers into hitting over the top of defensive fields.



His ability against left-handers will be all the more valuable if Robert Samuels and Jimmy Adams are brought back, giving West Indies four in the top six. No-balling seems to be part of the package, but so too is outfielding with a speed and athleticism possibly unmatched by any England pace bowler ever.



While his fellow-seamers build up the pressure by disciplined accuracy, provoking the shot-players into rash strokes, Gough's nature is to experiment and buy wickets, which could prove inspiring - or spoil the show. Certainly his reverse-swing has helped to polish off tails better in the last year.



The banker who will not let you down if the first three pace bowlers are injured, the old warhorse who will act as sergeant-major to the others if they should dare to stray in accuracy. As he may have lost a yard of pace he might need a green top - Trinidad the most likely - to take many wickets.



England would like to play three seamers and two spinners, but that would make Stewart keep wicket and his opening suffer. In practice, either Croft or Tufnell would have to bowl with the breeze. Only in Georgetown England might play two seamers and two spinners, otherwise it will be Croft or Tufnell.



Deserves first crack because a) he has done it in Tests, unlike Ramprakash and Butcher, and b) short, angled-in bowling should suit him as a worker off the hip. In the field, to the athleticism achieved by hard work, he must now add the dynamism of his Aussie counterparts, Ricky Ponting and Greg Blewett.



His height helped to win him the nod over Dominic Cork and Mark Ealham, as West Indian pitches have become ever more uneven when they are not flat, slow or dead. But he will need some bounce as his length is a yard shorter than traditional English seamers. He has the potential to bat, too.



``He has got the pace, bounce and ability to be England's new-ball bowler for years to come,'' is a fair reference from Ian Botham. His best bowling was on England's last tour of the West Indies and as the best batsman among the bowlers, he might have the dubious honour of being promoted to No 8.



Talented enough to have the luxury of finding ways to get himself out, not an attribute that England will appreciate in the West Indies. Even in county cricket he does not play long innings', and being a left- hander does not help against the Walsh/Ambrose/Dillon type who angle the ball across.

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 19:33